Photographer Caroline Irby talks about her new exhibition at the V&A's Museum of Childhood
For several years, photographer Caroline Irby has been capturing the essence of youth with her beautiful images. “In my work as a documentary photographer I travel a lot, and wherever I’m working in the world, from Sierra Leone to Haiti, from Darfur to Kashmir, I’m drawn to the children I meet, and I often find myself telling the story through them.” For her latest project, A Child from Everywhere, Caroline found children from 185 of the 192 countries in the world who are now living in the UK. “Of the estimated 565,000 migrants who arrive here each year, 26,000 of them are children, and their take on globalisation is as valid as any other,” she says.
Whether the children have moved to the UK through choice or necessity, each and every one of the them has a fascinating story to tell, reflecting on cultural change from traffic lights to fashion. “Shopping was a big feature in the interviews with some of the teenag girls,” says Caroline. “For 16-year-old Carol from the Seychelles, the proliferation of shops in the UK seemed almost to compensate for our cold weather and lack of tropical beaches.” And then there are the anecdotes of Sara, 12, who says, “Mostly I now go shopping because I’m older but I miss the time where I can play hide-and-seek out in the fields with my friends. It was more free and it was more safe in Macedonia. Sometimes I get kind of tired of shopping because it’s a bit more grown-up and I still want to live the life of a little child.”
Ten-year-old Sara from Afghanistan, now living in Manchester, had a different relationship with British fashion again. For her, there was conflict between the way she wanted to dress and the way her parents and her religion allowed her to dress. “I wanted to wear short skirts with tights under, but I’m not allowed them - that’s not in the Islamic way,” she says. “I wear clothes that are for Muslim people, not the clothes that are not for Muslims, like tight clothes. I wear clothes that are good for me and that my parents approve of.”
“Children observe all the nuances of a new culture that may pass their parents by,” says Caroline. “So if they want – and can afford – to blend in, in terms of the way they dress, they do so.” Although each photograph does not represent the ideas of fashion primarily, the discussion of it surely does show us that fashion has a strong influence on the UK's culture.
A Child from Everywhere photography exhibition by Caroline Irby is currently showing at V&A’s Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London, E2 9PA until August 30 2010. Opening times: Monday–Sunday 10am–5.45pm.